28 August 2008

Phil Hill 1927-2008

AutoWeek, very appropriately, remembers him with an essay by Denise McCluggage:

(I)f Phil were Hamlet, his most famed of soliloquies would be delivered between chuckles with even a giggle here or there, because no one better than Phil appreciates the high comedy mortals enact on this sphere or the humor inherent in dilemma. How else could a man look over his colleagues who are deeply involved in making red cars go faster than green or silver ones and comment, "Sometimes I think we are a bunch of children," laugh, cinch on his helmet and join the game, a game that could momentarily claim his life. Or at another time, when the excited questions in the pits are: Who will get the fastest lap? Who will qualify for first place on the grid? Phil, as involved as any of them, pulls back to observe: "It's a hell of a measure of a man, isn't it? A lap time?"


Ferrari is the only factory he has ever raced for, and he has waited out one disappointment after another in the changeable climate of the Commendatore's favor. And it is not because Phil has had no place to go, although at times he felt that way. Long before Ferrari finally entrusted the champion-to-be with a Formula I car, Phil's talents were not going unappreciated elsewhere. "I could have had him on with me at Maserati," Stirling Moss said several years ago. Stirling was a little annoyed at Phil's stubbornness in insisting on it being Ferrari and not even wanting to talk about any other prospect for fear of alienating his chances there. But then, Phil Hill is not a simple person to be rendered into crystal by a friendly, credit psychoanalysis. One thing emerges, however: Phil's consistency in holding to known anxieties in preference to the anxiety of the unknown. Now, this should mark him as a rank conservative, shouldn't it? Which makes it even more strange that life cast him as a racing driver.


Several months (after winning the world championship), he went completely unrecognized on a television show in which a panel was supposed to pick "the real Phil Hill." But perhaps that was asking too much for anyone. For which is the real Phil Hill? A man whose high point of the year was either hearing Joan Sutherland at La Scala, winning a concours prize with his Pierce, breaking nine minutes at the 'Ring (the first driver to do that) or discovering a treasure trove of old piano rolls for his Knabe reproducer piano? It is likely that the real Phil Hill is forever hidden from us all, because, as a friend who recently met Phil commented, "He's tough." "What do you mean, tough?" I scoffed. "I mean he is tough. You wouldn't know it to look at him, or to talk to him, but when you see what he has done, and how he's done it--well, he's tough." Noah Webster: "Tough: Having the quality of being strong but flexible and not brittle; yielding to force without breaking; capable of resisting great strain without coming apart. "My friend is right. Phil Hill is tough. And you can't say the same for Hamlet."

Magnificent writing for a magnificent driver.

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